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Chinese language cinema

Film extolling Xi Jinping’s ideology, Hold Your Hands, won’t be last to benefit from promoting the Chinese president’s ‘thought’

Movie about an ex-soldier’s battle to pull his family out of rural hardship, inspired by Chinese president’s 2013 launch of anti-poverty strategy in a Hunan village, has benefited from relentless promotion by state media

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 10:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 7:08pm

Since the Chinese Communist Party enshrined President Xi Jinping’s newly proclaimed ideology in its constitution last week, officials and universities have been rushing to find ways of embedding the leader’s doctrines in their work and elevating his historical standing among the young generation.

Speaking on the sidelines of the party’s 19th national congress on Monday, education minister Chen Baosheng said “Xi Jinping Thought” will “go into textbooks and into classes” and be promoted through “specific teaching methods”.

Meanwhile, Renmin University of China announced on Wednesday the establishment of a research centre dedicated to the study of Xi’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era”.

Away from the hallowed halls of power and academia, however, the state’s propaganda machine has also begun a more populist campaign to consolidate Xi’s status as a visionary leader through cinema – in the shape of a small and seemingly unglamorous film set in a village in Hunan province.

Opening on October 13, Hold Your Hands was overshadowed by its more commercially driven counterparts during its first week on release. Against the odds, however, the film’s share of total screenings in Chinese cineplexes increased in its second week, doubling on October 20 and reaching a high of 7.4 per cent by October 24. Its share of ticket sales peaked at 6.6 per cent on the same day.

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Hold Your Hands’ untypical second-week surge coincided with the confirmation of Xi’s “thought” as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling dogma. It’s hardly a surprise, given that Miao Yue’s film is a celebration of one of the leader’s first fully fledged ideological directives issued after he assumed office in 2012.

Hold Your Hands’ story of an ex-soldier’s success in lifting his family out of rural hardship revolves around jingzhun fupin (“targeted alleviation of poverty”), an idea that Xi reportedly spawned during a visit to Hunan in November 2013. Conceived as a response to the supposedly unfocused and “wasteful” policies of previous administrations, it grew in 2015 into a “war” that Xi announced would eliminate poverty in China by 2020.

Hold Your Hands is very much a celebration of Xi as a visionary leader whose ideas will guide the downtrodden from their perennial plight rather than of patriotism in general, as seen in such films as The Founding of an Army or Wolf Warrior 2 . While Xi is never mentioned by name, the film alludes to his ideology throughout.

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Though notably devoid of A-list stars – the only recognisable name in the cast is soldier-turned-actor Wang Xueqi – Hold Your Hands was ushered in with official fanfare.

Two top-ranked officials from China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television attended its launch on October 9, with state-backed media outlets running relentless reports about how the film was warmly received by audiences in far-flung areas like the village seen on screen.

In an article about the film, Beijing Youth Daily mentioned how the average earnings of residents in Shibadong, the village on whose story Hold Your Hands was based, has increased nearly fivefold since Xi’s intervention in 2013.

Up to October 26, Hold Your Hands had taken 658 million yuan (US$99 million) at the box office, and the film still accounted for nearly 4 per cent of total daily screenings.

With Wolf Warrior 2 having reminded the Chinese authorities of the power of cinema as propaganda and pedagogy, more films about the president’s “thought” will certainly follow.